A specialist in the science of oil spills says portions of the shoreline of the North Saskatchewan River will likely be impacted by the spill of oil from a Husky Energy pipeline.

Merv Fingas is an Edmonton-based scientist, author and specialist on oil spills. Fingas, who has a PhD in environmental physics, has written extensively on the topic of oil spills and has been following reports on the leak from a pipeline near Maidstone, Sask. The breach led to heavy oil and another product, a sort of lubricant, entering the North Saskatchewan River.

Possible impacts?

Husky Energy reported Thursday that some 200,000 litres of product entered the water. Clean-up crews were using booms to corral and contain the spill.

"It probably poses very little threat to aquatic life," Fingas said Friday. "The heavy oil that is there has very few toxic components which are water-soluble."

He said the other petroleum product in the pipe, used to ease the flow of the heavy oil, would evaporate fairly quickly.

"It would much rather go into the air than into the water," he said.

Communities respond

Fingas noted the first steps communities should take, in response to the spill, is to turn off their water intakes. Cities that use the river for their supply, including North Battleford and Prince Albert, have announced plans regarding their intake facilities.

North Battleford is using an alternate source and Prince Albert is preparing to close its water intake on Sunday.

"One just does not want to take the risk [of ingesting contaminated water]," he said.

Oil leaves a trail 

The movement of the spill, he said, follows the movement of the river water.

"The shorelines no doubt will be oiled in places, especially around the curves" he added. "The shoreline in those [curved] spots often have weeds, so there probably will be oil on grasses and other aquatic plants."

Fingas said his view is that pipelines, overall, are a low-risk means of moving petroleum.

"A pipeline may only have one leak, ever, in its lifetime of 50 years," he said.

With files from CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition